Surprising CBD garden haven 

By Khiara Elliott

A makeshift garden sited at the Royal Melbourne Regiment Drill Hall is to potentially receive a major upgrade.

The garden forms a triangle at the corner of Victoria and Therry streets in the hall’s forecourt.

Local residents and business owners of the Victoria Square precinct are working with the City of Melbourne to transform it into a lush, green sanctuary for all to use.

Surrounding businesses involved in the project include the AMES Australia Multicultural Hub, Cohealth and Activia Hair Fashion. 

CBD News spoke with residents, designers and businesses around the precinct about why they believed the garden would be such an uplifting, integral part of the community.

“The idea of upgrading the garden is to support the residents and to provide a space where the whole community can come together,” Cohealth manager Ian Symmons said.

Although in need of major upheaval, the space has a come a long way.

“It was simply an abandoned space,” explained president of the Drill Hall Residents Association (DHRA) Martin Mulvihill.

“I think at one point it was just a car park. It was chained off, so access was not very easy and there was some uncertainty about ownership so no one really knew how to get things going,” he said.

The upgraded garden is proposed to also provide a safe place for those who do not necessarily have one. Cohealth Health Centre provides services to people with all kinds of needs. Mr Symmons works with the homeless in particular and hopes that the upgraded garden will become a refuge for his clientele.

“We want the homeless community to come together and see the space as somewhere they feel safe and welcome, where there’s resources and where there’s an opportunity for residents in social housing and residents from the local area to use this garden as a meeting space as well,” he said.

The garden has thus far acted as a makeshift vegetable patch of sorts, comprising a few donated planter boxes and a recently-added worm farm. Although the addition of the worm farm has added some green to the space, the site is still quite cold and barren – a problem the upgrade is intended to fix.

“Enhancing the space with built-in resources will make a big, big difference and really provide a focal point for the community to come together,” Mr Symmons said.

To brighten up the garden with colour, Drill Hall Community Garden is seeking advice from Wonderment Walk Victoria and McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery on a potential artwork to add to the space.

The precinct members’ plans to add more green to the CBD doesn’t stop with the Drill Hall garden. Ideas about adding plants to the surrounding vicinity around Therry and Victoria streets have also been discussed.

“We’re trying to make it more of a precinct. We’re trying to use the garden as a focal point for some of the potential redevelopment of Therry St and also Victoria St in terms of greening the space,” Mr Symmons said.

“Greenery is sorely needed in the city,” said garden upgrade designer Elliott Summers.

“You’ve got a lot of apartments coming up everywhere, but there’s a real lack of open space.”

“Essentially, this little triangle here is the tip of the iceberg in gaining momentum to generate a lot more potential backyard space for people,” he said.

There are many children living in the drill hall apartments and Mr Mulvihill spoke of their delight once they had an outdoor space in which they were able to run and play, even if it was just a few planter boxes and a worm farm.

“They went crazy for it! They were soaking everyone with the hose and running around and laughing, they just loved it,” he said.

To consider everyone in the project, Mr Summers included hiding spaces underneath the shrubbery for children to use during their games of hide and seek – a surprise that is sure to delight the younger community residents.

The current garden is already showing signs of bringing the CBD community together, with residents of the drill hall tending plants as well as restaurant chefs nurturing the tomatoes that grow there.

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